My first posts were about my Pretzel walks. I remember writing about what I had seen and experienced as I walked. So a return to this today.
I have been forgetting to be mindful – present as much as I can in all I do. So for the past few days I have been making an extra special effort. Whether it be eating my dinner, washing up, talking to a friend, watching “Eat, Pray Love” (Julia Roberts – Always a winner), I have tried to be more present in them. Not letting my mind wander off on to other things, not checking Facebook, not looking at my “To Do” List.
So this morning I tried extra hard to be “in” my morning walk with Pretzel. It is amazing how much I noticed. There are a few brightly coloured flowers out in some plots which are just lovely to look at. The trees with the sky as a backdrop were so crisp and present this morning. Some of the plots on my morning route are so beautiful to look at – their owners obviously spend a lot of time tending them. Being present makes even the mundane more interesting. I do the same Pretzel walk every day – and usually I am cold and half asleep, The walk was so much more enjoyable this morning. I had snuck in 20 minutes Meditation before Pretzel woke up (yes she is a dog not a baby) and was very chilled and present as a result. I had actually felt good after that meditation – meditation does not come naturally to me so I take that as a win.
So this morning I stopped to say “Hello” to a couple of people with their dogs – a lovely lab and a small bichon frise in a brightly coloured knitted jumper. I gave my usual greeting to the gold coloured Buddha in a plot not far from here. I took a detour to smile at the skeletons on the battered decking owned by an older, rather eccentric man (a very kind and friendly person),
I didn’t take my phone with me as I walk around the site so no pictures of this walk…. But maybe tomorrow. So instead – a photo of Pretzel my Pug / Chinese Crested Cross (Pugese).
Last week I was checking in at a Buddhist Group and I found myself wondering aloud, “Just how did I get through everything before Buddhism?”.Before the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha came into my life?Before I knew to go to refuge in these Three Jewels? How did I manage to survive this life before I was introduced to Buddhism?How did I get through the constant struggles that life always presents us with?How did I enjoy the good times which I knew would end?How did I manage to be any way near happy and content through the struggles which seem to have hit over the past couple of years?
I can say how I attempted to do all of that. Some of the ways were good or, at least not dreadful!.I am fortunate that I have some incredibly good friends and we support each other.My girls always helped just by being there just as my lovely Pretzel, JD and Smirnoff did.A walk with Pretzel is always a great mood enhancer.Having a cat or two on my lap is always lovely.I would book holidays and have things to look forward to …this was a good strategy as long as there was always something to look forward to.It did mean that a lot of life wasn’t appreciated as I was always awaiting Friday evening or the holiday in the sun.This strategy involved a lot of living in the future or recalling pleasant memories of the past but helped to get me through. There were other strategies too – alcohol was definitely a big help!Not in large quantities but a few glasses of wine to numb the senses and dim the worry for a while.I got involved in things – running, Power lifting….exercise is always a good thing to do (unless done to excess which may have been a problem at times).Boxsets were a feature – a way of forgetting about life for a while.
These ways of living life weren’t bad in themselves – unless taken to excess.Friendship, pets and family were always a positive feature in my life.But now, looking back, a lot of my ways of coping seem to be very short-term strategies. They were strategies which took me away from my life, emotions and thoughts.They took me away from me.Life was passing me by because I wasn’t living in it properly!I was always trying to numb it or to be somewhere else!
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I now try to live my life differently.I don’t always succeed in living in the present but I am at least trying to do so.Buddhism has given meaning to my life, a sense of purpose.It also gives me ways of thinking about my life and thoughts on how to live it.Buddhism doesn’t provide me with a step by step plan – I have to work all of that out for myself!But it does provide pointers and methods!All that I have done to change my life in the last year has been down to my new world-view – simplifying my life, putting myself and those I love ahead of convention and the supposedly safer way to live.I still have a fair way to go but I have made a start.
Because I see life differently now, it feels more full of meaning.Life is so precious!It is so short and can end at any moment.So I need to build a life which I love living rather than trying to escape it.I need to live life fully and gratefully rather than craving something else.And everything changes – those things which make us suffer will end at some point, or at least change.And when something happens (the first arrow strikes), I don’t need to make it worse by firing that second arrow of worry and “why me?” at myself.I now try to face it all head on and work my way through it.(I try – doesn’t mean I always succeed!!).
I still use strategies for dealing with life when things aren’t going as well.I still take Pretzel for a walk.I still talk to friends (and my friendship circle has increased so much in the last year).I still look forward to things.I do all of that.I still have the occasional glass of wine or watch a Boxset (NCIS is the current favourite) but I don’t do these to escape my life any more.I do them because I want to do them for a little while.But I have other ways now – meditation!I never thought that I would be that person who has meditated at least once a day for over 130 days.Meditation is so powerful – it calms my mind and provides a sense of peace and stillness.Not always!Sometimes meditation throws up important truths which bring temporary discomfort but lead to me being a better person eventually.Mindfulness – trying to live in the present…living with intention… trying to make each moment count.This has led me back to doing some of the things I used to love to do but haven’t been able to concentrate on or have the energy for (reading, sewing, embroidery….).
Yes – I am grateful to the Three Jewels and to the man who introduced me to them.I definitely have a way to go but I am living my life a little better than I used to do. I feel more. I am living in my life more. I am not just “getting by”.
I have been thinking more about mindfulness. Mindfulness in the Buddhist context – what it means for me, for my life. The part that mindfulness plays in my Dharma Life, in my journey. I wrote about it a few days ago ( https://teejordan.co.uk/index.php/2019/07/16/mindfulness-a-poem) but last night’s Sangha Evening led by the newly ordained Akāśhanandi on the Four Reminders (see below) inspired me to explore further.
The Four Reminders This human birth is precious, An opportunity to awaken, But this body is impermanent, Ready or not, one day I shall die.
So this life I must know As the tiny splash of a raindrop, A thing of beauty that disappears Even as it comes into being.
The karma I create Shapes the course of my life, But however I act Life always has difficulties; No-one can control it all. Only the Dharma Can free me and others From suffering forever.
Therefore I recall My hearts’s longing for freedom, And I resolve to make use Of every night and day To realise it.
The first noble truth is that to be human is to suffer. Suffering (Dukkha) is inevitable. We all know that – Buddhist or not. Every human being experiences pain, suffering and loss. A lot of our time and energy is spent trying to relieve, cover or forget this suffering. Sometimes we choose good ways of relieving suffering – talking with friends, meditation, going for a walk etc. But some of the time we choose less skilful methods. Addiction is often seen as a way of coping with suffering – Russell Brand has written and spoken a lot about this. We can become addicted to anything – food, Box sets, exercise, online shopping. Addictions are unhealthy habits and attachments. Many activities which we do for long periods of time may not be addictions as such, but we do them to fill time, because we are bored, because we feel tired and lethargic – Eating a packet of biscuits, watching endless box sets, flicking through FaceBook …
So there is suffering which we all try to deal with or avoid in many ways. But human life is precious as is shown by the first line of the Four Reminders. It is an opportunity which should not be missed. Life does have difficulties, there is always suffering but it is also a thing of beauty. We must make the most of it as this life is fleeting like the tiny splash of a raindrop. We never know when it might end. So – in comes mindfulness! Am I being mindful about how I am living my life or am I just drifting along with no purpose? Am I wasting precious moments? Am I engaged in looking for true freedom from suffering for myself and others or am I just covering it up with mindless, possibly harmful activity?
The way to freedom is the Dharma – “only the Dharma can free me and others from suffering forever”. The Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha – but it is not a set of laws and commandments which are written down and must be followed to the letter. It is a teaching which has to be internalised and lived by each individual Buddhist. The Buddha just said, “I am a human being, and I’ve had a certain experience. Listen to what I have to say, by all means, but listen to it critically, test it in your own experience” (Sangharakshita – the founder of Triratna Buddhism) – There is a story of the Buddha’s aunt / foster mother coming to him very hurt and upset because the Buddha’s disciples were giving out different versions of the Dharma. The Buddha was unperturbed – and said (in a much longer and more poetic way), whatever you find conducive in practice to finding the goal of Enlightenment – do that. The Dharma is a raft, a means to the other side of the river, it is a finger pointing to the moon. The Dharma is not an end in itself. As one of the Order members said to me – I have to discover what the Dharma means to me and live it.
I am still in the midst of exploration and discovery – but I do know that mindfulness is and will continue to be central to my practice, to my life. One of the five precepts which I follow as a Mitra concerns mindfulness – not being clouded by intoxicants (which, to me, can be anything which stops me from being fully present), “With mindfulness pure and radiant I purify my mind”.
Human life is precious and fleeting – so we must appreciate every precious moment. There has been much written about living in the present moment. One of the first books I read on it was Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. The present moment is all that we have – it is not a stepping stone to another moment. The Now is the most precious thing there is. To be present in the Now is to be extremely mindful of what I am doing and not to be distracted by regrets from the past or dreams of the future. I also need to take advantage of every given moment – is what I am doing at this very moment serviceable / beneficial to myself and / or to others. I need to take heed of the last lines of the Four Reminders – recall my heart’s longing for freedom and resolve to make use of every day and night to realise it. Now that does not mean that I have to be busy every moment of the day and night! It does not mean that I can never sit down and watch television. Rest and relaxation are important physically, mentally and emotionally. For me, being mindful and being in the present means that I need to know why I am doing what I am doing in a given moment and to be fully committed to that activity. Am I watching NCIS Season 3 because I am actively interested in the story and the characters or just because I cannot be bothered to get up and do anything else? Am I actually watching it or am I flicking through my phone looking at Instagram, responding to messages etc at the same time? Have I sat here watching it all day (not very likely at the moment to be honest as my mobile WIFI is a bit unreliable)? Am I taking time in the day to develop myself? Am I reading, learning about the Dharma? I want to hone my writing skills which were a little rusty but are coming back slowly – have I done anything to achieve that today? I lost the creative side of me for a while so what am I doing to get that back (another blog post coming in a couple of weeks). Have I been in contact with my friends and family? Have I done my daily meditation? And what have I done today to be of service to others – and how can I do more? I am intensely aware that, as I am not working at the moment, I could easily waste my days doing nothing in particular – which would be a great shame as I am so fortunate to have this time.
Before I end this post – I do need to make it clear that I am a work in progress! I am trying my hardest to practise mindfulness in the way that I have described. It’s hard! Even writing this, I have found myself distracted by the bleep of a text message which I answered… and, having picked up my phone I saw that I had a FaceBook notification… well you can probably see where I am going with this! I would say, however, that being more mindful does make me feel happier, more fulfilled and calmer.
This poem was the the result of a project I did for my Dharma Study Group. I looked at the fifth precept:
“With mindfulness pure and radiant, I purify my mind”
It began with a mind map which is the main picture at the top of this post. I love mind maps. I first came across them when I was teaching in Milton Keynes. Tony Buzan has written several books on the subject of mind mapping – well worth a look. Mind mapping is a great technique for brain storming any subject and organising your resultant thoughts. It also lets you use all of those colourful pens!! Then there was a stage when I tried to organise my thoughts in a more linear way. I was bored by that though and it didn’t seem like a good ending for the project.
In my mind map and more organised writing, I looked at mindfulness as being multi faceted:
being present, in the now, in the moment. Not worrying about the future or being anxious about the past. No regret, no fear. Be in the moment, enjoying whatever it is I am doing without distraction
knowing the purpose of the activity to my life, my goal, my direction. Is this activity beneficial to me? Am I benefiting myself or others by doing this? In the words of the Olympic Medallist, Ben Hunt Davis, “Will it make the boat go faster”?
being vigilant. Guarding against unskilful actions of body, speech and mind. Am I acting with metta? Am I being generous? Am I being truthful?
And whatever I am doing, even if it does not seem to be a “good” thing to do; it might be a frivolous thing, just fun or something to do at that moment. But whatever it is – am I actually noticing what I am doing? Am I actually watching Netflix? Am I actually tasting the bar of (vegan) chocolate? Am I actually listening to my friend? We all seem to spend so much of our lives multi-tasking!
Somehow – I am not sure how exactly – this turned into a poem. I haven’t written a poem in years – probably since school. And at school, there were always rules to follow – make sure it rhymes or “write it in the style of….”
So here it is – the completed poem.
This moment is a precious gift. Imagine a butterfly drifting in and perching gently on your hand. Use your eyes to photograph her beauty. Be gentle …. Don’t move your hand or make sudden movements. This is a special moment. This butterfly trusts you to do the best by her Don’t harm her Don’t scare her Treat her well. This butterfly will never come back to you again… Her life is short as it is. She will fly off – don’t try to stop her. Do not chase after her. Just let her go.
This moment is a precious gift. A present given to you by a special friend to use well. Open the present with attention and care. Read the hand written card. Notice the beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon. Fold the paper carefully so that it can be treasured and used again; Tie the ribbon in your hair. The present is fragile; it will not last. But is given with such love and devotion. Use the present wisely. Use the present with love. One day that gift may be broken – do not weep. Do not cry. Your friend loves you still.
This moment is a precious gift. Imagine a special bunch of flowers ready to be placed on the shrine. They have been picked with loving care. Look at their bright colours; notice their green leaves. Arrange them with care Show them to their best advantage. Treat them gently – they are delicate. When they begin to fade, remove them from the shrine Do not mourn their death They were never going to last more than that brief time. The shrine will be beautiful again.
This moment is a precious gift. Use it well. Use it wisely. Use it with intention. Use it without distraction. This moment is a precious gift. Use it, be deep within it then…
Too many of us sit in front of the TV on a Sunday evening filled with a slight sense of dread for the Monday morning to come. You only have to look at the memes on Facebook – “SMONDAY – When Sunday stops feeling like Sunday and the anxiety of Monday washes over you“; “Goodbye weekend, I am going to miss you“; pictures of sad kittens mourning the presence of Sunday evening. It gets to the point where we ruin what could be a lovely evening worrying about what may or may not happen the next day. Or we are regretting the fact that we have got up late and have “wasted” a lot of the day. We don’t live in the present moment. We regret the past and are anxious about the future. Added to that is the sad reality that far too many of us are doing jobs that we do not enjoy; jobs that make us yearn for the weekend; jobs that see us struggling to Wednesday’s hump day then wind down to the next weekend. At what point do we actually enjoy our lives?
It might be too big a dream to think that we can all do work that we love that earns us enough money to live. And many of us who dislike the thought of Monday mornings are perfectly okay once the week starts; the job isn’t actually that bad.
I have only three of these Sundays left including this one. Even so, I don’t want to waste the time feeling anxious about tomorrow. I want to be happy, to enjoy my life. I am having a calm, peaceful weekend catching up on sleep, doing some chores, seeing friends, reading and spending time with one of my daughters. The weekend isn’t over yet.
Of course, there is a lot more that could be written about changing our jobs, living lives that do not demand the well-paying jobs that we think we need to live. But even if we change nothing else – we could, at the very least, try to concentrate our heart and mind on what is happening now.
I must admit that it is tempting just to keep counting down the few weeks until I leave work. But I am trying not to. I am striving to live in the present moment, see the beauty in my life, count my blessings and to stay calm when my natural inclination is to be irritated or annoyed.
Apart from the aches and pain (which I think about, speak about and worry about far too often) my life is so good at the moment. I spend a lot of time with my daughter, with friends, with my dog and cats… This evening was lovely – I spent it with a lovely woman who is so kind, relaxed and inspirational. Tomorrow I will be at Brighton Buddhist Centre celebrating Wesak with some very good friends. And today I reconnected with someone so precious who I thought was lost. Friendship is so very important to me.
So I will ignore the aches and pains. I will ignore the fact that my outdoor lights don’t seem to be working (sob) and I will even stay calm as my two fat ginger cats meow and pester me for food.
I love my caravan. I love my daughters, my friends, my pets. In six weeks my life will be different; I am so looking forward to the challenge of new routines, home schooling and getting some part time work. I look forward to the freedom, the opportunities to travel, the time to read, the time to “just be”.
All is good. I need to stay calm and present. I need to rejoice in my life. I need to continue on my Buddhist path; continue to become “more Tee”.
I am sitting outside on my decking thinking “how lucky am I?” I’m wrapped in a blanket because it’s still not warm and summer like yet. I am sitting in a comfortable chair with my feet propped up on a table. I am surrounded by trees and clear sky. My newly purchased statue of the Buddha is sitting in the corner looking beautiful and serene.
And today has been lovely. Took my two gorgeous girls shopping and for lunch at Bills. They are such lovely, caring girls. Great fun to be with too. A good day.
And I get to live in this lovely place. I am lucky enough to have been able to change things so I can give up the job that no longer feels as important as it did. I get to be able to afford to work part time and homeschool one of my daughters. In just a few weeks time my life will be changing.
So I am enjoying this very moment. Savouring every second. Life can entail suffering and it can throw the most horrific curve balls. But life can also be good.
Live in the present. Take what is good about life and savour it. Enjoy it. Appreciate it.
Sitting on a bench on Hastings seafront. I have just parked in Priory Meadow – multi storeys are always fun / interesting / fraught with the dangerous possibilities of scraped paintwork. Much better with my new small cute car though. Walked through the modern centre then through the Old Town with its fascinating shops, bars and cafes
Sitting here – there are children playing in the playground, families playing mini golf. Walkers, dogs. Joggers.
It’s a bit chilly – it’s not the sunshine and heat of last weekend. My whole body hurts (inflamed joints – the doctor is on the case trying to find out the cause) and I am having to walk very slowly. My bag feels very heavy. But it’s lovely just to have the time and the space to explore my new town a little.
I have just passed a Vegan Cafe with a very friendly, welcoming sign…. I will have to go there sometime soon.
I am becoming better at living in the moment: appreciating what I am doing. Moments like this make me realise how lucky I am. I never really enjoyed living in the South East – I was always planning my escape. Always too busy feeling sorry for myself and looking at the negative. The last 18 months have been very stressful and unhappy. But now, my life is stabilising. Not everything is perfect – some things are far from perfect – but I can see and feel the joy again. I can truly and sincerely say that I love being here, in Hastings and St Leonard’s. It’s where I should be at this moment, for this time.
I went on my second ever retreat for the Easter weekend. What a lovely, relaxing, spiritual time spent with some lovely people. 22 Buddhists all gathered in a beautiful country house to meditate, discuss, reflect and explore friendship – the whole of the spiritual life. Phones were turned off. There was a period of silence. It was an amazing calming and refreshing time. A time in which lives were changed forever.
The sun was shining that weekend. There was time to walk, sit in the sun, read and reflect. I spent some of my time writing. On Sunday afternoon, during the silence, I sat outside of the summer house in an extremely comfortable chair and wrote:
I am sitting in a very comfortable chair. I need that else my painful body is far too much of a distraction. People are scattered around me – reading, writing, walking. Down the slight hill is a pond – a pond which is covered in algae because (I think) it helps to support the waste eco system. It is still beautiful and tranquil. Surrounded by green lawns, bushes and a bright splash of yellow flowers. Two ducks live on the pond. They are always together, swimming one just slightly behind the other. The backdrop to these rolling lawns and pond is a wood. Further on in the wood there are carpets of bluebells, pockets of primroses – although they cannot be viewed from here. All to be seen immediately is a tapestry of trees. At first glance, the trees are all beautiful shades of green, all alive and vibrant. Some with big, flamboyant leaves, others with more delicate ones. But mixed in with this tapestry of greenery are shades of brown. Some trees do not look as alert and alive. They may well experience a re-becoming further on in the year as spring turns to summer. One tree is a deep russet brown, almost red. It is fiery. It towers over a lot of the other trees. The blue sky is its backdrop. The sky was a picture book blue earlier on. I remember a jigsaw I did when a child (I was addicted to jigsaws back then). This jigsaw had just green and blue pieces – a thousand of them. Just trees and sky. this could be that jigsaw. But now the sky has faded a little – a paler blue, almost white in places. Still no clouds though. As I turn my head just slightly to the left I see the stunning show-off that is the magnolia tree. Pale pink flowers against the bright green of its leave. Two / three / fours shades delicately painted on each flower.
My favourite tree cannot be seen from here. It is a favourite of mine and a friend. It forms an archway between the gravel car park and the garden. The brilliant pink rhododendron tree.
A beautiful weekend which reminded me of the need to be more mindful. To live in the present. To enjoy and be grateful for what is happening now.